Back to School 2021

Stanwood High students, left, line up Friday for ASB cards and other before-school registrations as teachers attend a training in the commons, at right.

Students' desks are a little closer, hot lunches are again being served and kids are attending in-person all week.

These are just some of the changes coming to Stanwood-Camano schools that should make a school day feel more normal after a year upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 4,400 students and 620 staff here are set to return full-time to classrooms on Thursday, Sept. 2.

“There’s definitely a feeling of excitement,” district Superintendent Deborah Rumbaugh said. “I think folks missed the tradition of the first day of school that they didn’t have last year. We’re focusing on the celebration of kids being back in person.”

COVID forced students home and to online school in March 2020. By fall 2020, schools resumed in-person schooling in a hybrid model where students went into classrooms two days a week and worked online the rest of the time.

While this school year is set to take a step toward normalcy, it’s not quite back to pre-COVID schooling.

Everyone in school buildings must wear a mask unless they have an official exemption. Masks aren’t required outside. Staff and students will stay at least 3 feet apart to help prevent the spread of illness.

Also, everyone working in schools — custodians, bus drivers, librarians, principals, teachers, paraeducators — must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-October or risk losing their jobs, per a statewide mandate.

"Statewide, nationwide and global data and research show us that universal masking and widespread vaccinations are the two most effective measures our schools can utilize to combat virus spread," state Superintendent Chris Reykdal wrote in a Aug. 25 letter to schools."If there is minimal virus spread, the likelihood that you will need to close classrooms or entire schools is low. These safety measures work, and they are not at the discretion of local school boards or superintendents."

In the letter, Reykdal announced a rule to define the process the state will use to withhold money from districts that willfully fail to comply with the mask and employee vaccine mandates. The rule went into effect immediately.

If the state determines a school district willfully failed to comply, an initial notice from OSPI will allow 15 days to comply. If that deadline passes, a second notice is issued giving five days to take corrective action. Then, if compliance is still not met, funding may begin to be withheld.

“We have to recognize we have lots of requirements from the state, the state Department of Health and the (Snohomish) Health District that we have to adhere to,” Rumbaugh said. “We will be working with staff, parents, everyone, to help meet those requirements.”

To help, the district created a COVID-19 section on its website — stanwood.wednet.edu — to provide up-to-date guidance and resources.

The district also plans to soon launch a data dashboard, where the public can see COVID cases and other data broken down by school.

“We want to help the community see the trends here,” Rumbaugh said.

There were 312 cases from 222 different classrooms and facilities from throughout Snohomish County between August 2020 and March 2021, according to a Snohomish Health District report.

If there is a positive case in a local school, the district’s nurses and Snohomish Health District staff will help to determine who, if anyone, qualifies as a “close contact” and might need to quarantine, said Maurene Stanton, the district executive director of human resources.

“The Health District will advise the school district on what to do next,” Stanton said.

“Each situation is so different,” Rumbaugh added. “It can be complex.”

The school district will not test a student for COVID without parent permission. It also does not administer vaccinations.

With kids back in classrooms five days a week, teachers will turn their focus to “accelerated learning” — helping students get to grade level as quickly as possible, Rumbaugh said.

Teachers are working as grade-level teams to help identify critical standards and parse student data to craft lessons that will get kids up to speed, she said.

“For example, a third-grade teacher is not going to teach a mini version of second grade,” Rumbaugh said. “They will embed some of the elements needed to fill gaps in their third-grade plans. … This will be a multi-year process. We don’t expect to close all the gaps in nine months.”

Students will also take state tests in the fall to help the district and teachers get data that will help prioritize learning for students, she said. Kids will take state tests again in the spring.

Meanwhile, the district’s enrollment is bouncing back a bit.

The district has already added four elementary classes and hired more positions at the high school to accommodate increased enrollment. The district also still has job openings for bus drivers, paraeducators, custodians and substitute teachers.

The district’s Saratoga School — a parent partnership homeschool program that experienced a dramatic increase in participation last year — remains high in enrollment, too.

“But, we recognize that we’re still in very unknown territory,” Rumbaugh said. “We don’t know what the pandemic will look like in six weeks or six months. … But we’re looking to provide as much normalcy as possible.”

Contact reporter Evan Caldwell at ecaldwell@scnews.com and follow him on Twitter @Evan_SCN for updates throughout the week and on Instagram @evancaldwell.scn for more photos.

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